When I am in the car surfing the neighborhood for curbside treasures, I’m often annoyed by how disposable life seems for some people. Those who, without much thought, toss perfectly good things out in the trash. Most of the time, the things I come across only require minor tweaking to be usable again. Every week when I set out to hunt, I say a quick prayer thanking God for whatever goodies I’m about to find. I’ve come to believe that what winds up in the back of my SUV was meant just for me.
Now, I didn’t always hunt for trash.
When I wound up in these parts back in 2005, I was running a construction office for a Milwaukee-based general contractor. Dave and I had already divorced and reconciled. We had just finalized plans to build a brand, spanking new house in one of two new subdivisions over the Illinois/Wisconsin border. A fresh start in a new place seemed to be the right way to give coupledom another shot. I suppose we believed our old problems would magically disappear with a change of scenery.
It became routine to swing by the home site on my way through town after work. I loved watching the progress on our new home. As luck would have it, I was hanging out in the car at the curb the day they hoisted the first floor exterior walls up. When the crane positioned the east side of our new house into place, I immediately saw an issue. From where I sat I could tell that the fireplace footing didn’t line up with the chase. Sure enough, they had mis-drawn the plans and the concrete footings were off by nearly two feet. Are you following me here? The place we planned to get a fresh start had a bad foundation.
Since the point of this story isn’t to bore you with the minutia of residential construction I’ll skip ahead and tell you that we didn’t wind up buying that house. (insert sigh of relief here) After many months of bickering with the builder we got our cash back and were free to start the process all over again elsewhere. Only, by this time I was soured on the whole new house, new neighborhood, new life notion. I distinctly remember telling Dave that it was a sign and reminded him of the first time we ignored the signs (hello? anyone remember our wedding? No – that’s right, because no one was there). He assured me this time would be different and after checking out the subdivision across the street we put an offer in on another builder’s model. In April of 2006 our ‘do over’ began.
By Labor Day weekend of 2008 I had packed up the last of my things and made the trip down the road to my new apartment. My close friend and neighbor, Gale, helped me lug boxes up to the third floor. We went shopping for a new sofa and entertainment center. She kept an eye on Dave and the house in my absence.
And things were fine for a while.
The following year I began dating a guy who lived nearby. We had a lot in common and enjoyed spending time together. Aside from regularly disagreeing on how we parented (I parented the kids and he didn’t) we got on just fine. He was Christian and very involved with his church. From the get-go he insisted that for us to pursue a future together I must be active in my faith as well. It seemed like a reasonable request and the five of us spent every Sunday with his parents in church. We regularly discussed the Gospel at home and he was eager to answer any questions I had about the differences between my Catholic upbringing and his Christian beliefs. It didn’t take long at all to realize what I thought I knew amounted to a hill of beans.
Although my faith was growing, my patience with this man and his children waned and we wound up going our separate ways. In the split, he got custody of his church and I was left to find a new place to worship. Once again, my friend Gale pitched in offering a seat beside her on Sundays at her church.
It was easy to fall in to place at Crossway. Dave and I were getting along well enough so I invited him to Sunday service a few times. He even agreed to attend an Exploring Christianity course in the hopes of strengthening his understanding of the Word for the sake of our son. Looking back, it was probably a mistake to put our names next to each other on the sign-up list. Of course they assumed we were together and placed us at the same table and in the same small discussion group. What was supposed to help unite us wound up driving us further apart. By the time the 8-week session was up, we weren’t even on speaking terms.
So it was pretty easy to decide to get out of town all together when my lease was up. Work had me commuting an hour each way so moving closer was a practical decision. Saving time and money was a no-brainer; putting a good distance between me and the ex’s was an added bonus. Three years later, I packed and moved my belongings a third time to Milwaukee. By now, Dave had sold the house and moved on too. As I was exploring the city’s social scene he was climbing the corporate ladder. We were cordial but kept our personal lives from each other. Our conversations were kept to a minimum and revolved around our kid.
That summer I suggested we modify our long-standing kid-swap arrangement. Instead of meeting half-way every Saturday for the trade-off, I offered to drive all the way down every Sunday. I had visited Crossway Milwaukee but couldn’t get comfortable there. Tuning in to Crossway’s e-church was convenient but a poor substitution for being part of their weekly service. Plus, I missed seeing Gale. Dave agreed and I started spending more time in our old neighborhood.
On Halloween, Dave and I were invited to dinner. An old neighbor was in town having dinner with some mutual friends. It was the first time we’d spent any time together since I moved away. Slowly, we started talking more and when I signed up for another round of Exploring Christianity, he tagged along. This time we intentionally chose to sit together and engage in what we were learning.
Now, a lot of people could take credit for how the next few months panned out. But standing with Dave the following September, before our Pastor, friends and family exchanging vows, it was pretty clear to me whose repurposeful hand had been at work restoring the relationship we’d thrown away.
Every week for the last year I’ve made my way through our subdivision hunting for treasures.
Two streets over I drive past the built-wrong house before crossing the street into our old neighborhood. I hang two lefts and drive past Gale’s house. I always stop at the curb in front of the builder’s model to say a quick prayer of thanks before bringing my trash-to-treasure finds home for their making over.